Tyrel Wolfe of Idaho was just a normal 18-year-old. His life up until this point had been normal – some would say stiflingly so – at least by comparison of what was to come. One day he logged into his Facebook account to find a strange friend request. It was from someone in the Philippines, someone that he had never met.
This isn’t unusual of course. Spam friend requests like this happen all the time on Facebook. Tyrel just deleted the friend request and got on with his life. He had no idea that this particular “spam-bot” would prove to be rather persistent.
Little did he know that the random “spam-bot” who’d sent him that request, was actually a real Filipino woman named Joana Marchan. Of course, Tyrel had never been to the Philippines, so if she was real, he certainly hadn’t met her. Unless she’d been to the US at some point. He put the whole situation from his mind and decided that she was some kind of scammer.
Nevertheless, something about the brief message stuck in his mind. Time passed and finally, Joana reached out once again. Tyrel was intrigued. After all, it’s rare for a scammer to try and scam the same person twice. He examined Joana’s profile. They had no friends in common. Why was this person so interested in reaching him? Finally, he accepted the friend request.
Tyrel had finally mustered enough courage to send a message of his own back to Joana. He kept it simple; “How do you know me?” it read. She responded quickly and her response raised even more questions in Tyrel’s mind. Joana asked Tyrel if he was familiar with something called the Samaritan’s Purse. It was a term he hadn’t heard in decades.
Tryel recalled a Christmas many years ago. He was seven at the time and his parents had told him that an organization called Samaritan’s Purse had started a program called “Operation Christmas Child.” It involved them sending Christmas-themed shoeboxes full of gifts for less fortunate children around the world. Seven-year-old Tyrel had sent out one such shoebox.
Like most of the people that had participated, Tyrel had packed his shoebox full of small toys, toiletries, and school supplies. All of these were things that Joana had been very happy to receive on that Christmas 11 years prior. He was shocked, how had this little girl remembered his name after all this time? His friends and family were equally shocked by the news, and a bit dismayed.
Tyrel’s parents were especially worried that this Joana was some sort of gold-digger, preying upon their son’s inherent kindness and naivete. They weren’t even sure that Joana was her real name. Tyrel wasn’t foolish, he wanted to test the truth himself. So he asked her about the contents of the aforementioned shoebox. Joana couldn’t remember every item, but she did remember one particularly important one.
Frankly, Tyrel didn’t remember all the items himself, but all of the things Joana mentioned did seem correct. The one item of note that she did recall, however, gave Tyrel pause. It was a picture of himself that he’d placed inside the shoebox; one that she described in complete detail. She knew it well, she’d come back to it many times over the years.
There was no doubt in Tyrel’s mind that Joana was the girl he’d sent the box to all those years ago. Still, a question nagged at the back of his mind, one he had to try and put into words. Did Joana have any other, less-than-savory intentions or was she just trying to thank him? As it happened, she did want to thank him, and her only other intention was getting to know him a little better.
Joana and Tyrel did indeed get to know each other better. Before long they were chatting to one another on a daily basis. They soon found that they had quite a lot in common, including a shared love of Christian music. A year later and the two had plans to finally meet. Tyrel planned on taking a trip to the Philippines.
It was going to be an expensive undertaking, but Tyrel had decided early on that he wanted to meet Joana, but he knew that she’d never be able to afford to come out to him in Idaho. So he had saved up every penny he could towards their eventual meeting and worked countless hours of overtime. When he told her the good news, Joana was ecstatic.
Hours and Hours
Tyrel was gearing up for the trip of a lifetime. Finally, he hopped on a plane and headed the nearly 15-hour flight from Idaho to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. It was his first time traveling alone, let alone to a foreign country, but Tyrel had a good feeling about the long-awaited meeting.
When he arrived, Joana was at the airport waiting to greet him when he got off the plane. She and her family went above and beyond welcoming him into their home. Almost from the get-go, it felt as though Tyrel was already a part of their family. Their bond was apparent with everyone with eyes to see. Something special was happening.
Tyrel wanted to stay in the Philippines as long as possible and before either of them knew it, a month had passed. They were more than just friends at this point. Love had begun to blossom between them. Unfortunately, his time was running short. To Tyrel and Joana, it felt like no sooner had his trip begun and it was time for him to return to the US.
It was finally time for both of them to go their separate ways. They promised one another that this would not be the last time they met and agreed to find anyway they could to be together. Long-distance relationships are difficult at the best of times, but maintaining a relationship over thousands of miles and a whole ocean was bound to be impossible.
Tyrel arrived back in his hometown and began saving again. He was determined to do everything he could to return to the Philippines, if only for another short span. Before long, he’d saved enough to return. Their second trip was even better. Tyrel had fallen in love with Joana and after he returned home, he resolved to ask her an important question on the third trip.
Tyrel prepared for his third trip by learning to speak fairly fluent Tagalog, the native Filipino language. He learned enough to speak to Joana’s father about his intentions with his daughter. He wanted to ask for her hand in marriage. Surprisingly, Joana’s father wholeheartedly consented to the agreement, though not everyone shared the same sentiment.
Even though Joana’s father had consented to the match, her mother wasn’t so on-board with the whole crazy scheme. She had always believed that their relationship had been moving far too quickly. She wanted them to slow down and get to know one another better. These reservations lay partially in the fact that Tyrel was still a foreigner.
Tyrel’s plan to convince Joana’s mother was to invite one of his own family members to come and meet the family. He was able to convince his father to visit the Philippines and speak to Joana’s family. He could see how much his son loved Joana and explained that his intentions were completely pure. He added that he knew his son wanted to do the right thing.
Meeting Tyrel’s father convinced Joana’s mother and she gave her blessing. Wedding plans moved quickly after that. After all, Tyrel and Joana had waited for too long already. Five months later, in October 2014, the two were wed at Tyrel’s parent’s ranch. It was a small ceremony but it respected both cultures.
Joana’s simple but gorgeous wedding gown had been purchased at a thrift store for $5. Tyrel wore a barong, a traditional Filipino wedding garment. Their nontraditional love story and nontraditional wedding also came with a rather unusual request for their guests. They weren’t fancy people and didn’t want any sort of pretentious, traditional wedding gifts. They wanted something special.
Joana and Tyrel thought about the shoebox that brought them together – the one, beautiful moment of charity that allowed them to finally meet. The happy couple wanted to pay it forward, so they had the guests bring shoeboxes of small gifts to be donated to Operation Christmas Child later that year. They also wanted the wedding guests to slip an addition something into the boxes.
Each wedding guest was asked to put a special note into the shoebox. These notes were intended to reflect what Tyrel had done for Joana and to inspire others towards doing good deeds for others. Tyrel and Joana then spent their honeymoon driving the boxes from Idaho to South Carolina. They continued the tradition every Christmas afterward.
Moving In and Moving On
Despite the fact that it was very far from her family, Joana decided to move to the US to start a life with her new husband. Tyrel’s job requires him to travel, so together, the two have seen a great deal of the country. Three years later, they welcomed a baby boy into their budding family. They named him Harlan Jun Wolfe.
One seemingly-innocuous act of kindness brought two people from opposite ends of the world together. Not many people get the chance to have a love story like that of Tyrel and Joana. It just goes to show the effect that one act of kindness can have on the lives of others, and on our own futures.